TV & Movies

Debris Review: NBC's Fast-Paced Alien Drama Spins a Tantalizing Mystery

NBC’s new sci-fi drama Debris opens with a fairly standard action scene, with federal agents chasing black-market crooks through a luxury hotel. But the crooks aren’t selling guns or diamonds; they’re selling fragments of a destroyed alien spaceship that are scattered across the globe. And when a hotel maid innocently touches one of those fragments, it instantly teleports her and sends her falling several stories to her death. Yes, Debris — premiering next Monday, March 1 at 10/9c; I’ve seen the series premiere — is anything but standard.

Network TV has a decidedly spotty track record with science fiction, but after that premiere, I’ve officially got my hopes up for Debris, which gets off to a great start and is packed with potential. The premise is a juicy one: British MI6 agent Finola (The Magicians‘ Riann Steele) and American FBI agent Bryan (Kingdom‘s Jonathan Tucker) team up to track down those mysterious spaceship fragments — which, when recovered, are being meticulously pieced together by government scientists — and solve the mystery of where they came from and what they’re capable of. Plus, of course, there’s a human conspiracy brewing, with the priceless fragments often falling into the wrong hands.

Debris springs from the mind of Fringe writer J.H. Wyman, and it briskly chugs along with the same geeky, goofy energy that beloved show had. (Bryan refers to one triangular spaceship fragment as a “nacho.”) We’re dropped right in the middle of the story, with the characters tossing around lots of indecipherable jargon and not really waiting for us to catch up. (My review notes were filled with question marks.) But there are moments of pure awe, too, like when the agents follow a woman’s body as it levitates across the ground and into a whirling tornado of unexplained energy. And by keeping its stories on a human level, it manages to ground itself in real emotion amid all the technobabble.

Tucker is an underrated actor and a welcome presence on any TV show, from terrifying killer Matthew Brown on Hannibal to MMA bruiser Jay Kulina on Kingdom to gangster Frankie Ryan on City on a Hill. It’s nice to see him get the spotlight here, and he brings a sly, rough-hewn charm to Bryan. Steele is terrific, too, as Finola, who’s the more by-the-book of the two, and they have a lively, lighthearted banter between them; I’m curious to see how that bond develops in the weeks and years to come.

The special effects are top-notch, with chillingly convincing shards of alien tech turning up in the least likely of places. And the tone is surprisingly creepy, backed by an ominous, bass-heavy score. (The premiere centers on what appears to be an alien possessing the body of a small boy, with his victims bleeding out of their eyes.) We don’t even get a chance to catch our breath as the plot hurtles forward and one WTF twist is piled up on top of another. At some point, you just have to decide to sit back and embrace the confusion.

It is hard to get too excited, though. I’ve only seen one episode, after all, and we’ve all been down this road before, with sci-fi dramas setting up intriguing mysteries, only to be cancelled before we get any answers. (ABC seems to launch a new one each year like clockwork.) As intriguing as Debris‘ central mystery is now, it could easily wear thin if the producers run out of ideas too quickly; I can’t really envision yet how this can be sustained across multiple seasons. But for now, at least, it’s a helluva fun ride. It’s rare for a network to hit us with something as smart and strange and ambitious as this. So let’s enjoy it while we can.

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: Smart, weird and surprisingly creepy, NBC’s sci-fi drama Debris hits the ground running and doesn’t look back.

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